Sometimes there is just a better way of confronting and defeating life-controlling and life-altering issues like drug and alcohol addiction. For John Barrow and the staff at A Better Way Ministries the solution comes when a life is surrendered to Christ.
Beginning operations in 2006, the ministry is based on the Teen Challenge model. With its offices in Peachtree City, the residential programs currently serve three dozen men aged 17-50 and are located in east Coweta with a new home in Senoia expected to open by Christmas.
This is a men’s discipleship ministry, founder John Barrow explained recently. It began with a home on Christopher Road in east Coweta. The residence nearly doubled in size to 3,000 square feet with the help of Square Foot Ministry. Later, on the same 50-acre property, came a 9,000 square-foot home to accommodate more men entering the program. In the subsequent years another five homes in the area have become affiliated with the ministry, Barrow said.
And now in its fourth year, A Better Way has gone from four residents to 35 and is nearing completion on a new 5,000 square-foot residence in Senoia off Stallings Road. The entrance to the property is a new street that was recently approved by the city council. The name of the street: A Better Way.
Barrow’s enthusiasm with the new project and his appreciation to the Senoia City Council was easy to see. The Senoia residence, with its large wood and stone sign on Stallings Road marking the home’s location, stands as a type of milestone for the ministry.
“With the Senoia home and this sign, this is the day we can come out,” Barrow said smiling.
Barrow is more than familiar with the devastation that comes from drug and alcohol abuse and the prison time that can accompany it. As Barrow describes it, his repeated incarceration was “like a revolving door from the time I was 13 until I was 26.”
While in youth detention in Fulton County at age 13 Barrow was introduced to New Life for Youth, a branch of Teen Challenge. That experience, and the events of the years that followed, is indelibly imprinted in his mind and in his heart.
Near the rear of the Christopher Road property there is a little path that leads to a small frame chapel next to a pond. Standing near the door of the chapel Barrow recounted the circumstances that occurred in past years along the path of his own life: drugs, alcohol, prison time and the death of a son who is buried along the path a short distance from the chapel.
Reflecting on a life whose course has been altered, John said what he heard in jail during his early years stuck with him, he said, even though his life continued for a number of succeeding years on its downward spiraling course toward oblivion. And it was as a young man, barely in his teenage years, that he heard a message of truth that in his later years could no longer be denied.
“What was sown in me at 13 changed my life eventually,” Barrow explained on a You Tube video, not shying away from the reality that during the years of ages 13-26 his life was littered with drugs, alcohol, three failed marriages, numerous jobs, repossessed cars and houses. “When I look back, I’m sitting in the hole… this was in my sixth year and probably my 10th trip to the penitentiary … all I had to read was the Bible. And as I read it back and forth God started reminding me what I’d heard when I was 13 years old.”
John Barrow changed. Or more to the point, Christ changed him. It has been nearly two decades since John has lived inside the walls of a prison. As he explains it, he could not run from God forever. And though it took more years, Barrow lived with a convicted heart that eventually altered his life and, as a consequence, has provided a better way for others to conquer their own demons through God’s help.
“When you get out there so far with drugs and alcohol sometimes you never come back,” he said. “When you’re running from God you don’t give a flip because you’re running from the conviction. So my job here is to help these guys get beyond that sticking point.”
From the outside, the homes run by A Better Way look like any other. But it is what is on the inside that counts. The upkeep, food preparation and the various projects are accomplished by the residents. The men customarily sleep four to a room in two sets of bunk beds.
“We disciple men,” Barrow said of the Bible-based approach of the ministry that combines work and education. “And we start each morning with praise and worship. Living this life, it’s very rewarding because you get to see the change in people.”
Headquartered on Dividend Drive in Peachtree City, funding for the non-profit ministry comes in part from the variety of businesses it operates that also provides a work setting and skill building for the men in the program. The ministry operates a commercial bakery, a woodshop, moving company and an auto body shop. And the most recent endeavor is Changing Hands Thrift Store, also located on Dividend Drive. These non-profit businesses help sustain the growing ministry operations.
A Better Way has a tuition requirement for the 15-month stay but few pay. So the funding for a substantial volume of the ministry’s needs has come from John’s company, Barrow’s Masonry Inc., located in Senoia.
“I learned to lay brick in prison and it’s a business the Lord has blessed me with,” he said.
As for the future, one of Barrow’s concerns is for boys aged 13-17. That type program would be much more involved, Barrow said, adding that such an endeavor would also be contingent on additional funding and financing.
Today as in past years in this country, society at large has little patience for those strung out on alcohol and other drugs, and many among us say they have made their own bed and are not worthy of our help. Few of us understand the gut-wrenching nightmare that can result in the life of the one wrapped up in this type of living hell. Still fewer are willing to understand that, when convicted, those living the nightmare sometimes search unsuccessfully for a way out of the devastation.
Our lack of understanding has never been a matter of being unable to relate to these things. It is a matter of being unwilling. For we often look only on the surface, the words and actions, of those imprisoned in a life that none of us would want for ourselves.